Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ian Roberts

Out in Sports: Gay Australian Rugby Player

(Updated February 20, 2014) London-born Australian rugby player Ian Roberts came out in 1995, the first person in the sport’s history to do so. This admission surprised many, because Ian did not fit many stereotypes of gay men. It was noteworthy that there were minimal repercussions that resulted, and lucrative endorsements continued to pour in. He remains an inspiration to young gay men all over the world who see in him a brave, tough role model who stands against the clichés of what gay men are like. However, both epilepsy and recognition of his homosexuality nearly led to his giving up the game. Instead, by the mid-1990s he had become the highest paid rugby player in Australia.

Roberts forged a stellar career as an aggressive forward with Souths, Manly and North Queensland and represented both New South Wales and Australia. In 2005, he was named one of the 25 greatest ever New South Wales players.

Ian's first clear, public statement that he was gay was made to The Advocate magazine and then quoted in a Sydney newspaper without Roberts' permission. Regardless, he never denied it, and the press jumped all over the story. News of his sexuality was followed by photos of his male partner Shane Goodwin and mention of their intention to adopt children.

Having come out, Ian was called on by most gay charities and many youth charities to do fund raising work, appear in poster campaigns, and sit on Mardi Gras floats, among others. Acutely aware of his media position, Roberts kept up a busy charity schedule as well as his Rugby League career, shifting from the Manly Sea Eagles in Sydney to the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville. During this period his biography, Finding Out, was released.

After retiring from Rugby League at the age of 34, Ian moved to Sydney and completed an acting degree at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA, the alma mater of Mel Gibson)) and began a second career as an actor. Ian drastically reduced his public visibility as a sports idol and concentrated on his new career.

In a 2000 father-son newspaper interview, Ian talked about his relationship with his dad:

“Most of the time my father and I talk about sport. We never stop fighting. We've always disagreed about everything, especially politics. Dad is a bit of a racist We'd also argue about the whole gay thing. He came from the old school, where everything was black and white and no grey. Now he's mellowed; he really believes that there should be allowances for gay couples, that they should have equal rights and they should be able to marry in some form...

...I was surprised how cool he was about it when I told him I was gay; it was my mum who freaked out. I was about 25 at the time. Dad said, 'Your mum's heard something at work today; we don't believe it, but we just want to hear you say it. Tell us you're not gay.' I said, 'No, Dad, I am gay.' He went white as a sheet. Mum started screaming. Dad said, 'Shut up, Jean, and talk to your son!' I was upset, so I went out to the car, and Dad followed me. He gave me a hug and said, 'This is still your home, boy.'

We didn't bring the subject up for a while, because Mum was still having a really difficult time accepting it. One day, Dad tried to have this safe-sex talk with me. I told him that I knew what I was doing, but I appreciated his concern. He was very inquisitive; he wanted to know all about it.”

From Ian’s father:

“One of the proudest moments of my life was when he finally did come out. That took a hell of a lot of guts. I think he was just fed up with living a lie, and he got to the stage where he didn't care what people thought about him. I'd go along to watch him at the football, and some of the crap I used to hear from the crowd made me very upset.

We argue about everything. That's what most of his friends could never understand. When they first meet us, they think we're forever fighting, but it's just the way we are. We talk about everything. Nothing is taboo. I just wish he'd told us earlier. It would have been easier for me, and for him.”

Roberts finished playing professional rugby league in 1999, and began studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. Roberts had a brief cameo part in the Australian film “Little Fish,” starring Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, playing an ex-rugby league star. He appeared in the 2006 motion picture “Superman Returns” as Riley, a henchman of Lex Luthor, and the highly acclaimed Australian television series “Undervelly: A Tale of Two Cities.” Roberts also won second place in the Australian version of "Dancing with the Stars" competition.

This video features highlights of his rugby days, acting career and even some clips from "Dancing with the Stars." Enjoy.